Dedicated to the memory of three patient teachers whom I was privileged to learn with during the first year of Pardes, exactly 40 years ago: Rabbi David Hartman, Rabbi Menachem Frumin and Dr. Mike Rosenak, in a search for meaning of life in Israel during that seminal year. Rabbi Hartman, Rabbi Frumin, and Dr. Rosenak, each of whom passed away over the last few months, leaving a void in the people of Israel, and a void in my heart.
It is that search for meaning of life in Israel which this Parsha, “Shlach Lecha” addresses,
If you work in the media in Israel, you cannot avoid the miracles that unfold every day, before your very eyes, and that causes dysfunction in the lives of reporters who cannot believe what they see and report.
These are symptoms of what I have termed “PMSTD”: POST MIRACLE TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER, which plagued the spies in “Shlach Lecha”
From a standpoint of logical military tactics, Shlach Lecha focuses on a strategic decision of Moshe to dispatch an elite intelligence unit into the land of Israel, before Moshe would dispatch his untrained divisions of soldiers to obey God’s command and conquer the land that God has promised them.
There are those commentators who claimed that it was not necessary for the people of Israel to spy out the land. After, all, look at the miracles that God had so far bestowed upon the people of Israel, with the plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the delivery of the Torah and the Manna from heaven that sustained an entire people.
Yet Rabbi Don Yitzhak Abarbanel, who understood the shortcomings of political leadership, asserted that PMSTD affected the leadership of the people of Israel, who were about to enter the land of Israel and assumed that miracles from God were for the Galut, a thing of the past.
Abarbanel posited that PMSTD affected the leaders of Israel, who believed that miracles which saved them Egypt & which sustained them in the desert would not occur when they would enter the land of Israel.
Anyone who plows through Abarbanel each week will notice that Abarbanel predicted the return of the people of Israel to the land of Israel, which would result in good news and bad news: The blossoming of the land of Israel and, at the same time, the adoption of the idea that the people of Israel would build the land of Israel without thinking of miracles from above.
According to Midrash Tanchuma, Moshe consulted with God about whether or not to dispatch the spies, and got an answer: “Al Daatcha”: “It’s up to you”.
The mission of the spies did not bother Abarbanel, who understood the role and responsibility of kings.
Abarbanel described the mission of the spies in terms that anyone who understands military intelligence would understand today:.
Are the cities fortified? What kind of people live there? What kind of agriculture do they have? Abarbanel noted that the spies performed their role with excellence, providing a detailed report of what they saw.
Yet ten out of the 12 spies were punished with grievous death for giving negative assessments of what they saw, expressing doubt as to whether the people of Israel were up to the task, while two spies – Yehoshua and Calev, who give a positive report, went on to assume leadership positions with the people of Israel.
Both Yehoshua and Calev were awarded entry into the promised land, while the other 600,000 Israelites who left Egypt did not even step foot in the land of Israel, including Moshe Rabeinu.
Now we have to ask ourselves: Why did God strike down intelligence officers who give bad reports? As we would say today about media critiques, would God kill the messenger? Did God create a “Pravda precedent” to crush those who would express doubts or fear before tough battles that an inexperienced army in the land of Israel would have to face?
Not at all, said Abarbanel, whose theory as to why the spies were punished was that, as respected leaders of their tribes, they had leaked a confidential report to the masses of Israel, after Moshe asked that their report was to be delivered only to Moshe.
This would not be the first case and nor the last case in military history when emotions overtook intelligence officers, where fears allowed intelligence officers to lose their sense of judgment.
To paraphrase Abarbanel, ten leaders came to the conclusion -on their own – that God’s miracles will not manifest themselves when they would cross into the land of Israel.
Therefore, instead of conveying their intelligence report to Moshe, the ten spies convened a crowded press conference in the desert for everyone to hear their anxieties, which is why the SINAI TEN were punished.
The SINAI TEN’s statements contrast with Joshua and Calev , who perceived that the greater the challenge faced by the people of Israel in the land of Israel, the greater would be their determination to overcome the hurdles ahead
Joshua and Caleb understood that God’s unseen providence would not be confined to the Galut, and that God’s unseen presence would not be limited to the desert.
Abarbanel made it clear that the crime of the ten spies was not the report itself, but rather the fact that the leakage of the report caused panic amongst the people of Israel.
Yet there is a clear Bibical remedy for the mistakes of the spies
When Joshua’s turn came to direct an intelligence mission, he told his spies, in no uncertain terms, that they must report back to him and only to him, so as not to repeat the leak which Moshe had experienced
David Hartman, Menachem Frumin and Mike Rosenak followed the path of Joshua and Calev with their optimism and belief in Israel’s resilience.
They reached out to young Jews like myself and encouraged us to break through the text barrier and to see God’s presence and God’s providence in the renewed state of Israel in the land of Israel.
For that, I am very grateful.
Most recently, an Israeli friend who does not know English recently asked me how you say “Optimi” in English.
The answer: It’s “up to me.”